Aug 9, 2017
All interfaces with the customer are designed by people. It can be on-line conversations with robots or in store interactions, but the driving force behind all of these activities are the people in our employ. The way people think and act is a product of the culture of the organisation. That culture is the accountability of senior management. The common success point of organisations is to have the right culture in place, that best serves the customer. The success of senior management in making all of that work is a combination of their leadership, people and communication skills.
This sounds infinitely reasonable in theory, but the reality is often so different. Senior leaders, who themselves are not particularly people focused, expect their customer interaction designers and in store staff to be customer focused. They don't walk the talk themselves and what is worse, they don't see the contradiction.
They haven't worked out yet that good customer service begins with good employee service. Love your staff and they will love your customers. Richard Branson is widely referenced with his philosophy of employees first, customers second. His idea is to produce the right mental framework for employees to then put the customer first. Our emotions lead our behaviors, which determines our performance.
Fine, love all of that, but how do we get it right? Leadership has to be clearly understood by the leaders. It is not a function of rank or longevity in the organisation. Instead, it is a function of the degree of cooperation we can get from our team. We might believe things are rolling out beautifully, in a pre-ordained way, in relation to how we treat the customer. Sadly, the front-line customer experience with our service could be entirely different from how the leaders planned it and how they want it.
To get that employee cooperation to buy into what we believe is the correct way forward, we need to have well developed people and communication skills. We also need to make sure that our middle managers also have those same skills. We could be doing things really well up at the top of the organisation, but our middle managers may be sabotaging the culture we want to build and we just do not see it.
If we want sincerity to be a function of our customer service, then, as an organisation, we have be sincere. If we want customers to feel appreciated, we have to appreciate our staff and do it in a sincere way. People can spot fake from a mile away. If we spend all of our time finding errors and faults, we may miss the things that are being done well, which we can communicate that we appreciate.
We might want many things in business such as personal success, greater revenues, reduced costs etc. We can only achieve these things through others: either our own staff or our customers. They may however want different things. We have to find the means to appeal to our staff and customers such that they want what we want. This is not manipulation. This is well developed people and communication skills. The trust is created and we lead others, to also want what we want. As Zig Ziglar famously noted, we can get whatever we want in this life, if we help enough other people get what they want.
To create that trust we have to be genuinely interested in others. This starts with our staff because we want them to be genuinely interested in our customer. When they do this, they build the trust with the buyer and a bond that is very difficult to break. If we don't demonstrate this genuine interest in our staff, we are not building the culture where they will naturally pass this feeling on to the customer.
There is an old Chinese saying that, “a man who cannot smile should not open a shop”. Yet in modern business, we have plenty of people floating around who don't smile. It could be the very top executives who are too serious to smile at their staff. They set up a culture that is dry and remote, but expect that at the interface with the customer, there will be an emotional connection with the brand. They just don't see the miscalculation and self-delusion involved here.
Bosses are often poor listeners, who imagine that their front line staff are all doing an excellent job of listening to the customer. What if that is not the case? If the bosses want to create a culture of good listening habits, then starting with themselves is a reasonable idea. When we listen, we learn more than we already know. This is so important when dealing with the customer. We need to make sure we have a culture of good questioning skills to trigger the opportunity for the customer to talk to us. In these conversations we can better come to understand what would be best for the customer and how to properly service them.
One of the frustrating things about training salespeople is the difficulty of getting them to stop focusing solely on what they want (bonuses, promotions, commissions) and concentrate on what the client wants (solve my problem). When they are talking to the client, the conversation is all about what the sales person is hoping for. We have to learn to change that dialogue and talk in terms of the key interests of the buyer.
I was giving a keynote speech at an event hosted by one of our major clients, for their most important customers. Another speaker spent the entire time just talking about his own company! I really wondered what was the take away for the audience? Actually, I don't wonder, I know. It was a big fat zero. We can get caught up in ourselves and forget that everything we talk about with the buyer, has to be firmly focused on the client’s interests. The way we do that is by listening to their answers, to the brilliant questions we have designed for that purpose.
When a customer encounters one of our touch points, we want them to like and trust us. Doing this on-line is a challenge but good navigation, intuitive processes and clear explanations all assist in this regard. In the face-to-face world, we need to start in a friendly way. The culture of this basic idea however springs from within the company and is guided by the outlook of the leaders.
If the top management are a dour bunch, always serious, rarely smiling, stiff and “businesslike” rather than friendly with their teams, then we have to wonder why the front line staff would not be influenced by this outlook? If we want our people to smile and begin in a friendly way with customers, then the leadership group needs to demonstrate that attitude themselves and show this in their own staff interactions.
Another challenge for bosses is to shut up. Often, because they are older, more experienced and time poor, they get into the “everything abbreviated” habit of firing out orders. They do all the talking. The same problem with salespeople, they talk too much. The key to satisfying both staff and customers is to let them do the bulk of the talking. This requires a strategy and considerable discipline, but it is worth it because it creates a different type of culture in the organisation and this flows out to the customer interactions.
It is an obvious thing in sales to get customers to have a sense of ownership. We might describe the product or service and the situation after they have bought it. We regale them with the problem solutions we are bringing and the success platform we are going to create. We have a goal in mind – find the best solution for the client and get them to have ownership of this idea. We want them coming up with our preferred solution. We design the questions we will ask, with this in mind. It is our idea, but they reach the same idea on their own and in the process come to have ownership of that idea.
The same thing is needed with our staff. We can tell them how to do their jobs in great detail, but it would be better if we could have them come up with them own conclusion. Preferably one that matches what we have decided is in the best interests of the company. Again, question design here is crucial and if we do this correctly, the client arrives at their own conclusion and it matches the one we had previously reached. This way there is no sense of hard push sales or badgering of the buyer. They got there by themselves and so their sense of ownership is very high
We cannot be persuasive unless we can honestly see things from the point of view of the buyer. The aim in persuasion is to join the conversation going on in the head of the customer. This gets us on the same wavelength and our conversation will be in sync, because we are speaking about the things that are of greatest interest to them.
Trying to stop seeing everything from only our own viewpoint and to see if from the client’s viewpoint, sounds tremendously simple, but it requires a strong effort. We need to do this logically as well as emotionally. We have to be understanding at the empathetic level, which means really understanding the driving ideas and desires of the buyer. Nevertheless we need to enable this discipline to apply if we want to be successful in convincing others of what we think will serve them best.
If we want our staff to appreciate the business we can receive from the buyer, we need to build that attitude internally of praising staff and giving them honest appreciation. This is often missed in firms, where everything is rather cut and dried. Buying is an emotional activity which we justify with logic. We want our designers of the interface with the customer to have a sense of appreciation for the buyer. We want staff who are facing customers to do the same. If we are not giving our own staff praise and appreciation, we are not building a floor to ceiling culture that will work best when interacting with customers. It has to run on automatic, because we cannot be everywhere at the same time. We have to trust our people to deliver great customer service.
The ability to ask questions instead of making statements is an important skill. It is easier to drive this skill throughout the organization, if this is part of the culture. Bosses shooting out orders is a “tell” culture. If they automatically asked questions instead of giving orders, they would be building the right mentality for customer service. Our objective is to find out what the customer wants. To do that we need to be asking them questions. This is a mental frame around which the customer interaction needs to be built.
When we ask questions, we can come up with solutions that the customer themselves realise are the best outcomes for them. If we are more concentrated on what is best for us, then the customer can feel that too. So we want to understand their needs, suggest solutions that we know will make them happy to follow our lead.
Inside the organisation this is how the team should be managed. They should be doing what they are supposed to be doing, happily. Their bosses have communicated in a way that the staff member comes naturally to the same conclusion, as being the best way forward. When we achieve this common level of understanding then everything moves forward very smoothly.
Engaged employees are self-motivated. The self-motivated are inspired. Inspired staff grow your business but are you inspiring them? We teach leaders and organisations how to inspire their people. Want to know how we do that? Contact me at email@example.com
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About The Author
Dr. Greg Story: President, Dale Carnegie Training Japan
In the course of his career Dr. Greg Story has moved from the academic world, to consulting, investments, trade representation, international diplomacy, retail banking and people development. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia he never imagined he would have a Ph.D. in Japanese decision-making and become a 30 year veteran of Japan.
A committed lifelong learner, through his published articles in the American, British and European Chamber journals, his videos and podcasts “THE Leadership Japan Series”, "THE Sales Japan series", THE Presentations Japan Series", he is a thought leader in the four critical areas for business people: leadership, communication, sales and presentations. Dr. Story is a popular keynote speaker, executive coach and trainer.
Since 1971, he has been a disciple of traditional Shitoryu Karate and is currently a 6th Dan. Bunbu Ryodo (文武両道-both pen & sword) is his mantra and he applies martial art philosophies and strategies to business.